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Leave pre-packaging behind

July 31st, 2015 · No Comments

Make the most of the summer garden

My favourite part of summer is about to arrive! The late summer and early autumn canning season is about to get under way. Buying local is one of the easiest ways we can lower our carbon footprint since shipped food is such a big part of it. While I prefer to buy organic and local when possible, I’ll take local over organic produce shipped a long way. Beyond just the carbon footprint of conventionally grown vegetables, the fertilizer runoff into our lakes and rivers makes the decision an easy one. Farm runoff made Toledo’s drinking water unsafe to drink last year. This is an environmental catastrophe waiting to happen if we don’t address the issue soon. Toronto’s water supply is also susceptible to the same fate.

One can scour local markets for fresh produce and, if you’re lucky, farmers will often sell “seconds” by the flat. This is produce that might be bruised, shaped oddly, or otherwise imperfect in some way. At steep discounts, this is perfect for sauces, jams, and pickles. Not only is canning a fun weekend activity, it connects children with food and goes a long way towards eating local and helps in sustainability. The investment of a weekend can get me almost an entire year’s worth of roasted pasta sauce (loose recipe below).

By making our own sauces, we save the transportation of pre-packaged goods and the packaging itself which can often amount to a lot of waste (not just the packaging we see, but also the freight packaging we don’t see). The fact that homemade sauce is tastier than anything I’ve ever found in the store is a bonus. Arguably in the making of the sauce itself, mass production is more energy-efficient than small-batch production in your own kitchen, but the crushing down of one glass jar easily undoes that efficiency. As much as we like to think we recycle glass, a lot of it gets tossed in the landfill and even the stuff that is recycled gets crushed down for a new life.

To optimize the summer growing season even more, I will keep the ends and peels of my produce in the freezer. When I peel carrots, potatoes, and the best the summer has to offer, all the scraps get kept until my next batch of stock (which I usually make in the fall and winter when the house could use the heat and humidity). The less food we waste, the greener our kitchen becomes. Food waste is a big contributor to greenhouse gases that often gets overlooked.

As we hit peak summer, enjoy the great local produce. You’ll be supporting local farmers, reducing your carbon footprint, and eating healthy and delicious food! The best stuff rarely makes it to the supermarkets since it tends not to travel or sit well. Our own Bloor Borden Farmers’ Market has a lot of great vendors (all local and some organic). By buying directly from farmers, you are supporting them and get an opportunity to ask about what goes into your food. As a bonus, Jenna the balloon lady makes balloon animals for the kids! The Bloor Borden market is open every Wednesday from 3 to 7 p.m.

Summer roasted pasta sauce (quantities only approximate)

  • 4 to 5 pounds heirloom tomatoes (they’re so much sweeter)
  • 1 pound summer squash
  • 1 bunch carrots
  • 2 onions
  • 1 bulb garlic
  • 1 bunch basil
  • 1 hot pepper (optional)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Cut all vegetables into bite-sized pieces. If you prefer, you can skin the tomatoes but I like to leave them on for texture. Chop onion and garlic and mix with vegetables. Drizzle with enough olive oil to coat. Roast in a 350°F oven for about 1 to 1.5 hours until cooked down. Put into sterilized jars and pasteurize.

To pasteurize: Submerge 1 litre jars in boiling water for about 45 minutes. Smaller jars take a bit less time. Once filled, the air will escape the lid and when cool, create a vacuum seal.

Terri Chu is an engineer committed to practical environmentalism. This column is dedicated to helping the community reduce energy use, and help distinguish environmental truths from myths. Send questions, comments, and ideas for future columns to Terri at terri.chu@whyshouldicare.ca.

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